10 essential data center appliances

WAN optimizers and application accelerators are vital pieces of the data center

With all of the noise in data center networking focused on switches, fabrics and lossless Ethernet standards, appliances like WAN optimizers and application accelerators are often overlooked. But they are important components of the data center/cloud infrastructure, especially as organizations virtualize desktop applications for remote sites. Here’s an alphabetical listing of 10 of the top players, and their products, in data center appliances.

A10’s AX series

A10’s AX series application controllers include a range of platforms that vary according to performance, price and hardware. The newest generation of AX appliances is available as integrated 64-bit offerings as well as 32-bit models. A10’s Advanced Core Operating System (ACOS) is designed to work with multi-core CPUs.

Array Networks’ APV

Array Networks’ APV series application delivery controllers are designed to support multi-core processing, hardware acceleration modules and 10G Ethernet connectivity. They feature Layer 2-7 server load balancing, link load balancing, global server load balancing, application routing and content switching; as well as TCP connection multiplexing, high-speed HTTP processing, SSL acceleration, dynamic caching and adaptive compression. The APV’s operating system supports an integrated stateful packet inspection firewall.

BlueCoat’s Mach5

BlueCoat’s Mach5 (pictured) and PacketShaper appliances are WAN optimizers tailored for specific needs. Mach5 is targeted at businesses with consolidated IT, video, cloud or mixed IPv4 and IPv6 infrastructures. PacketShaper is aimed at businesses that depend on both network and web-based applications. Mach5 appliances combine protocol acceleration, compression, object and byte caching and QoS to help accelerate applications such as file access, email, web, storage replication and backup; and also support specialized live and on-demand video optimization for Adobe Flash, Windows Media, Silverlight and HTML5, among others. Mach5 also features cloud-caching engines to enable faster SaaS application access. BlueCoat recently went private under a $1.3 billion deal.

Brocade’s ServerIron ADX

Brocade’s ServerIron ADX line is designed to enable low-latency delivery of business-critical Web applications from BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Siebel, and infrastructure services such as DNS, RADIUS, firewalls, and cache services. In addition, these switches support HTTP performance of up to 3 million connections per second and 70Gbps throughput. Earlier this year, Brocade unveiled software for the appliances that enables them to function as gateways between existing IPv4 networks and new ones built on IPv6.

Cisco’s Wide Area Application Services

Cisco’s Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) appliances perform WAN optimization for locally hosting remote applications. They help reduce branch office IT costs by centralizing applications, such as Microsoft Windows Server 2008, in the data center. Cisco just unveiled a second generation of WAAS appliances that feature up to 2Gbps optimized WAN throughput, support for up to six virtual blades, and 150,000 TCP connections. Cisco also has a virtualized version of WAAS on its Unified Computing System blade servers; and an Application Control Engine for Layer 4 load-balancing and Layer 7 content-switching.

Citrix’s NetScaler

Citrix’s NetScaler appliance combines high-speed load balancing and content switching, data compression, content caching, SSL acceleration, network optimization, application visibility and application security. It’s available as both a hardware appliance or a software-based virtual appliance, and is designed to allow users to create a services delivery fabric overlay spanning enterprise and cloud data centers. It has the capability to offload servers from compute-intensive tasks, and features Layer 2 network and Layer 3 security capabilities.

F5’s BIG-IP

F5’s BIG-IP appliances perform load balancing, SSL offload, web acceleration, application security and access control for Layer 4-7 traffic. F5’s TMOS operating system is designed to enable users to scale and customize BIG-IP through APIs and scripting languages. BIG-IP appliances are available in a range of configurations and capacities, including VIPIRON hardware (pictured) that extends BIG-IP to a bladed configuration that scales on demand. VIPIRON features dual quad-core processors that support F5's Clustered Multiprocessing to form a virtual processing fabric designed to utilize all available CPU resources.

Radware’s Alteon ADC

Radware purchased Nortels’ Alteon application switching business in 2009. Radware’s Alteon ADC switches are designed to perform application aware traffic redirection, including content switching, session persistency, server health monitoring, denial-of-service mitigation and SYN flood protection. Alteon ADC also offers multi-site global server load balancing, SSL offloading, web compression, caching, HTTP multiplexing and TCP optimization. Radware claims its Alteon ADC switches can accelerate the response time of Microsoft SharePoint servers by 350% and reduce the servers’ CPU load by 40%. Radware also offers and range of other application acceleration appliances and devices.

Riverbed’s Steelhead

Riverbed’s Steelhead products come in a range of configurations – including virtual – depending on the size of the enterprise. They are designed to accelerate a range of applications, including file sharing, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, HTTP and HTTPS, Microsoft SQL and Oracle database, and disaster recovery using protocol-specific features. They are also designed to consolidate file, email, and application servers from remote branches; cut bandwidth usage by 60% to 95%; scale to hundreds of sites; and support tens of thousands of users on one device. Riverbed last week upgraded its software to better support video and satellite traffic.

Silver Peak Systems

Silver Peak Systems offers both physical and virtual appliances for WAN optimization. The NX series of physical appliances (the NX-1000 is pictured) scale from Mbps to Gbps of WAN capacity, depending on the size of the enterprise and number of applications to be supported. They are designed to optimize all IP traffic regardless of transport protocol and application software version, and to support real-time applications like VoIP, video and desktop virtualization, in addition to traditional file, email and web traffic.

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